Sunday Times – 24th August 2014

In October this year, 14 Sri Lankan artists will, for the first time in a remarkably long time, exhibit their work at a show dedicated solely to Sri Lankan art in London. ‘Serendipity Revealed’, a travelling exhibition that displayed in Hong Kong will find its next home at The Brunei Gallery in Central London for ten weeks.

Perhaps Annoushka, and the lion’s share of the 14 artists being exhibited, are familiar for their presence at the Colombo Art Biennale (CAB) 2014. Annoushka founded and has curated the event since 2009-“when we began CAB there were only 25 Biennales around,” she points out. “Now there are 55 of them.” Over the past four years, and three jam-packed shows, CAB has found an identity as a conducive space for aspiring and well established local artists.The exhibition will be curated by Annoushka Hempel, the force behind the Hempel Galleries at Barnes Place, home to a beautifully curated selection of contemporary art. Right now the Hempel residence is overrun with art in all shapes and sizes being measured for storage and transport. It’s a tall task (some works are a couple of metres long, and quite fragile) but Annoushka has a trusty team. “We’ll have to rely on each other quite a bit during the show,” she says.

The 14 artists come from all walks of life yet have one thing in common-theirs is a visual expression of being Sri Lankan. Often positive, bright and striking, their work pushes the boundaries of the accepted forms of art. Cora de Lang is the only artist of non-Sri Lankan origin among them. She paints elaborately on airplane bags, creating the most intricate designs on an unlikely surface and describes herself as a ‘transcultural nomad’ –she has lived and worked in Argentina, Germany, India, Mexico, Spain, Nigeria and now Sri Lanka.
The others are an interesting assortment. Some were born and have lived in the deepest heart of Sri Lanka while others grew up abroad with a strong sense of heritage. All of them turned to art to express mixed feelings about being Sri Lankan, being Asian or simply being themselves. Liz Fernando, for example, explores the concept of identity in a non-western culture. Based in Berlin (her work has been exhibited at the Tate Modern and was recently acquired by the World Bank in Washington D.C. for its permanent collection).

Pala Pothupitiye’s work both reassures and surprises. The artist’s famously celebrated work of cartographic origin is on display together with his earlier creations. Ancestral headpieces, ves muhunu-like in their shape, are an expression of his struggle to find identity beyond his family’s traditional occupation of mask making and dancing, handed down through generations. The work on maps explores his place in a rapidly changing country and our colonialist tendencies. The artist was awarded the prestigious Sovereign Asian Art Prize in 2010-since then his work has found critical acclaim and commercial success in Sri Lanka and abroad.

Pothupitiye’s work is of the crossover breed, notes Annoushka. “Usually, you find that contemporary art is either conceptual or commercial,” she notes. “Occasionally you find the crossover artists, and their work is quite versatile without compromising on thought and expression.” Kingsley Gunatilleke’s work at CAB, for example, found great commercial success. The books with bullet holes, and bullets embedded in them, are unlikely contenders for a private collection yet their magnetic appeal ensured commercial success-these will be on display at the Brunei Gallery. Together with Mahen Perera’s coiled, tense and unidentifiable objects they’re sure to appeal to the curious mind.

Anoli Perera, primarily an installation artist, will also exhibit at the Brunei gallery. Anoli’s art is informed by feminism and crafts art practices, engaging with women’s issues, myth, identity, colonialism and post colonialism. At Serendipity Revealed, Anoli will engage with her audience with a photo performance that looks at a woman’s place in society. “Traditional Sri Lankan women locked into traditional Sri Lankan values, no longer individual,” explains Annoushka. Using traditional family portraits, she presents work that is slightly unnerving yet thoughtful. Also working with the photographic medium is Nina Mangalanayagam, a Swedish visual artist of Sri Lankan descent drawing influence from her family to explore the fluidity of identities. Award winning filmmaker Vimukthi Jayasundara will join the exhibition with his work; the director won the Camera d’Or for Best First Feature at Cannes for his film The Forsaken Land in 2005, and has furthered his foray into the medium with a series of works that erase the borders between fiction and documentary.

Jananda Laksiri is an artist with a fine arts and design education, exploring the world from a very graphical point of view. Reginald S. Aloysius, a British-born artist, addresses issues of links between his roots with his work. For Dhanushka Marasinghe socio political issues such as violence, racism and bigotry, environmentalism and the lack of privacy define his work. Koralegedara Pushpakumara is a painter and conceptual installation artist who has exhibited extensively in Sri Lanka and abroad; his work is of the kind that draws you in and keeps you fixated. All the artists’ works are of this breed-Pradeep Thalwatte’s work influenced by his time in Jaffna, and Bandu Manamperi’s performance art captured on visual media will also have you hooked, fascinated by their sheer cleverness and originality.

“I’ve been doing this for five years, trying to raise awareness about why this kind of art is important,” says Annoushka. “Sri Lankan contemporary art is in such a good place right now, that people deserve to know about it.”

Affiliated to the School of Oriental and African Studies-of which Annoushka herself is an alumni-the Brunei Gallery is dedicated to showing work of both a historical and contemporary nature from Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

Serendipity Revealed is a partnership between the Brunei, CAB and Hempel Galleries. The exhibition will run from October 9 to December 20.